Writing Himself Into The Show Screen Guild Theater - Why Jack Benny Will Not Appear On The Program March 27th, 1944
'Why Jack Benny Will Not Appear On The Program'. The program stars, of course, Jack Benny. Also appearing are Barbara Stanwyck, Basil Rathbone, Jean Hersholt, and Michael Curtiz, the director of Casablanca.
Like so many of Jack's own programs, this episode of Screen Guild Theater is the story of the 'show within the show'. Jack Benny, learning of a program being produced with a stellar cast, is desperate to ingratiate himself into the production.
Jack calls Jean Hersholt, president of The Screen Guild. Getting nowhere with Hersholt, he calls Michael Curtiz, who will be directing the program. Curtiz wants nothing to do with Jack Benny and tries to pass him off to Barbara Stanwyck who, along with Basil Rathbone, will be starring in the show. Stanwyck tries to shift the responsibility onto Jean Hersholt, but when she learns that Jack has already discussed his participation with Hersholt, Barbara realizes that they have run out of options. Jack Benny will be coming to the rehearsal.
Why Jack Benny Will Not Appear On The Program is a superb example of ensemble acting. None of the stars, all huge names in entertainment at the time, let their egos get in the way of the production. They share both the limelight and the laughs freely and generously, perhaps inspired by the story, about an actor whose colossal ego causes nothing but problems.
Of course, the mission of Screen Guild Theater would inspire such generosity, with all proceeds and performer's salaries going to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, the charity that supported those of the film industry who had fallen on hard times.
Why Jack Benny Will Not Appear On The Program is also a fine example of Hollywood playing itself, a premise that always seemed to bring out the best in the stars, as they send up their Hollywood images. Basil Rathbone plays Basil Rathbone better than anyone; here he is the straightest of straight men, deflating the Benny character's ego at every turn.
Barbara Stanwyck plays both herself and, in the show within the show, her trademark melodramatic character, histrionic and spiralling toward disaster. Stanwyck is very obviously having the most fun; it's a pleasure to hear her hearty laughter at Jack Benny's expertly delivered one-liners and ad-libs.
Benny himself is completely in his element, playing the slightly pompous, slightly self-absorbed, and not-so-slightly vain character that he had honed throughout his many years in radio. Here, Jack gets to play it to the extreme, frustrating every other character in the show with his self-importance and irksome interruptions. Not until two decades later, in The Dick Van Dyke Show episode 'It May Look Like A Walnut', would walnuts again be this funny.
Jack Benny's Leading Ladies(?): Barbara Stanwyck and Claudette Colbert
The Extra Files:
This very clever and well written script, by Benny's writers Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, was first used on the October 20th 1940 episode of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert, Basil Rathbone, Ernst Lubitsch, and Edward Arnold.
The 1944 Screen Guild broadcast was adapted for the AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service), with the commercials removed and a musical selection, Russ Morgan's 'Some Of These Days', inserted into the middle break.
An interesting point is that because AFRS removed any reference to a sponsor, and because 'Lady Esther' is mentioned in the body of the show, nine seconds of dialogue between Jack Benny and Jean Hersholt are missing from this version. This results in an odd moment around the 2:12 point when Hersholt tells Benny that he can't be in the show, without Benny mentioning his desire to participate.
Note: It is unclear how or when the title 'Why Jack Benny Will Not Appear On The Program' was bestowed on this episode. The Screen Guild Theater versions did not announce a title for this broadcast, but the AFRS version refers to it as 'Ham For Sale'. Today, the longer title used here, or something close to it, is universally accepted by OTR fans.
The premise was reused on Benny's own show on February 6th 1949, with guest stars Claudette Colbert, Vincent Price, and Fletcher Markle, director and producer of the radio anthology series 'Ford Theater'.
Just two days before this broadcast, on February 4th, 1949, Claudette Colbert and Vincent Price (along with Glenn Ford) had appeared together on Markle's Ford Theater in 'No Time For Love', almost certainly a remake of Colbert's 1943 film of the same name (that episode is now lost). One month after that show, on March 4th, Jack Benny appeared with Claude Rains in Ford Theater's retelling of Benny's movie 'The Horn Blows At Midnight'.
This script would be used a fourth time in December 1953, on Jack Benny's television show, with Irene Dunne, Vincent Price, and Gregory Ratoff. While the story may have worked better on radio, this is still an entertaining episode and a rare chance to see these film stars performing on a television comedy show. To watch this episode, see the link below.
Jack Benny's Competition: Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone!
The Girl With The Legs:"We met once at a party at Marlene Dietrich's house." ... "You know, the girl with the legs." Besides her strong dramatic presence and stunning looks, actress Marlene Dietrich was renowned for having the best legs in Hollywood, something that her directors never failed to utilize.
Florentine Gardens:"There are a couple of girls at The Florentine Gardens that..." A Hollywood Blvd. nightclub that opened in December 1938, offering dining and dancing for a cover charge of $2.50. In 1940 the club added scantily clad chorus girls, and throughout the war years became a favourite night-spot for servicemen, who were admitted free. Despite filing for bankruptcy in 1948, the club still operates in its original location as of 2017.
Aimee McPherson: Jack Benny: "Who do you listen to on Sundays?" Barbara Stanwyck: "Aimee McPherson!" Pentecostal evangelist, media celebrity, and pioneer in the use of electronic media to spread a religious message. McPherson first preached over the air in April 1922, and less than two years later her church owned its own radio station, KFSG in Los Angeles (the 'FSG' in KFSG stands for 'Four Square Gospel', the name of McPherson's church).
Although not credited as such, Stanwyck's character in the 1931 film 'The Miracle Woman' was inspired by McPherson, as were many characters of literature and film.
The Palladium:"I was thrown out of The Palladium three times..." Similar to the above-mentioned Florentine Gardens (though perhaps without as much 'sex appeal'), a Los Angeles ballroom that opened in 1940, and still operates as of 2017.
Sherlock Holmes:"Fine Sherlock Holmes, can't even..." Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's private detective of fiction. Basil Rathbone was strongly associated with the character, playing Holmes in fourteen films from 1939 to 1946, and in a radio series over the same period.
October 20, 1940 Episode:
Make Garbo Laugh:"If you can make Garbo laugh, you can make me cry." A reference to Lubitsch's film 'Ninotchka', starring '20s and '30s screen goddess Greta Garbo. Her first talkie, 1930's Anna Christie, was advertised with the famous slogan "Garbo Talks!" Throughout the '30s she played dour, tragic, and hard-bitten characters until 1939's light comedy Ninotchka, which was advertised with the tagline "Garbo Laughs".
Madame La Zonga:"Well thanks for the lesson, Madame La Zonga." The dance instructress heroine of the 1940 song 'Six Lessons From Madame La Zonga' by Helen O'Connell & Jimmy Dorsey's Orchestra (soon adapted into a 1941 film starring Lupe Velez as La Zonga).
Sherlock Holmes:"Fine Sherlock Holmes..." See above.
February 6, 1949 Episode:
Burbank Theater / 'Ball Of Fire' Livingstone: Mary Livingstone: "If I didn't double at The Burbank Theater I'd starve to death." ... Dennis Day: "Gee, 'Ball Of Fire' Livingstone." The Burbank Theater has a checkered past, having opened in 1893 as a legitimate theater, later becoming a burlesque house. Actually located in downtown Los Angeles, it was not named for the City of Burbank, but for its founder, Dr. David Burbank. Dennis Day's quip refers to Barbara Stanwyck's 1941 film 'Ball Of Fire', in which she plays stripper Sugarpuss O'Shea.
New Suit And A Five Dollar Bill:"Too bad he ran away so fast; I was going to give him a new suit and a five dollar bill" Two items historically awarded to inmates being released from prison. Jack may be a bit behind the times (or a bit cheap); five dollars was the amount given in 1914.
Hooper:"What's your Hooper?" Radio audience-size ratings as measured by the C. E. Hooper Company, similar to today's Nielsen ratings for television shows.
Columbia / Broadway At Ninth: Jack Benny: "I'm with Columbia now." Claudette Colbert: "Well how are things on Broadway at Ninth?" A reference to the Eastern Columbia department store in Los Angeles, and their oft-parodied advertising jingle "Eastern Columbia, Broadway at Ninth". Benny's mention of Columbia refers to his then-recent move from NBC to CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System).
Johnny Belinda:"Just call me Johnny Belinda." The title character of the 1948 film, starring Jane Wyman as a deaf mute.
Note: If you download the collection on the main Screen Guild Theater page, you still may want to add the March 27, 1944 file from this page; the sound quality, while not perfect, is somewhat better than the one on the SGT page.
January 2018 Update: We have replaced the original 10Mb March 27, 1944 file on this page with a higher quality mp3, as found in the OTRR's Jack Benny collection. This new mp3 seemed to run a bit slowly, and the very distinctive voices of the performers were deeper than usual. Therefore, we have increased the tempo of the file slightly, shortening its running time from 30:50 to an even thirty minutes.
For archival completeness, and to deflect any complaints about audio tinkering, we have included zip files of both the original OTRR file and the original 48Kbps file that was previously used in the player. They can be downloaded via the ZIP link on this page.
To visit The Screen Guild Theater's page on The Archive, with well over three hundred episodes available, click here.
To visit a Jack Benny page with 143 episodes available, click here.
To visit the OTRR's massive Jack Benny collection (in downloadable zip files), click here.
This story would also be performed on Jack Benny's television show of December 6th, 1953, with guests Irene Dunne, Vincent Price, and director Gregory Ratoff. To watch this episode, click here.
To visit Introduction To Old-Time Radio's Jack Benny page, click here.
Digitally restored full-size versions of the photos of Jack Benny's co-stars can be found behind the JPEG link on this page, courtesy of Doctor Macro.
Jack Benny's real-life romantic leading role, one that ran for forty-seven years: loving husband of Mary Livingstone
April 1, 2017 Subject:
& I got a big kick out of the photo posted of Benny and Mary "Livingstone". The story on how they met is pretty neat too. She had a big crush on him from when she was oh, I think 14? 15? at a family dinner party and she put in her mind he is the man she is going to marry.